Archive for Monday, December 18, 2017

Behavioral health campus plan grew from recognition of housing’s role in crisis recovery

Conceptual plans for a behavioral health campus on West Second Street between Alabama and Maine streets were shared Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017, with the Douglas County Commission. The plans show a 20,000-square-foot behavioral health crisis intervention center on the left, a transitional home in the center and 10 long-term housing units on the right.

Conceptual plans for a behavioral health campus on West Second Street between Alabama and Maine streets were shared Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017, with the Douglas County Commission. The plans show a 20,000-square-foot behavioral health crisis intervention center on the left, a transitional home in the center and 10 long-term housing units on the right.

December 18, 2017


There are many people who will offer up their couch to a friend who has no place to stay. But when the host finds the friend has been getting treatment for mental illness, the couch oftentimes becomes less available.

Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center CEO Patrick Schmitz has seen the scenario firsthand, and it is one of the reasons why Douglas County’s plan to build a mental health crisis intervention center has morphed into a plan to build an entire campus for mental health care.

Schmitz is a supporter. He helped launch a multicounty crisis intervention center as part of his previous job in Iowa.

“You wouldn’t think there would be homeless people in rural Iowa,” he said. “But there were a lot of precariously housed people who were staying with parents, family members, group homes or friends who weren’t welcome back once they entered our facility. We were good at stabilizing people, but without somewhere to send them, they are going to cycle back through and you have done them no good.”

That’s why many mental health leaders now believe it is not enough to provide a place for people to receive treatment. You also must provide them a place to live, sometimes for months or even years. Douglas County leaders think they have a place in the Pinckney neighborhood — near Lawrence Memorial Hospital and the Bert Nash Mental Health Center — where they can build a mental health campus complete with housing.

But it is unclear whether Douglas County voters share the vision, and a price tag for the facility also hasn’t be determined.

The project

A plan for a mental health campus was unveiled at Wednesday’s Douglas County Commission meeting. The site is north of the Bert Nash center along West Second Street and northeast of Lawrence Memorial Hospital. The campus would provide three tiers of supportive residential housing for people experiencing a mental health crisis or people who are recovering from one. The three levels include:

• An eight-room residential ward within the behavioral health crisis center. Bob Tryanski, county director of behavioral health projects, said the rooms were large enough to accommodate two beds if there was a need. He noted some patients respond to treatment better with a roommate.

• A two-story transitional coed group home with eight to 12 beds for those leaving the crisis center or others needing temporary supportive housing from a few weeks to up to nine months.

• Eight to 10 apartments available for long-term residents with persistent behavioral health issues. The apartments would provide housing with supported case management for residents until they are ready to move to independent housing.

Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman said county staff, Bert Nash leaders, the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority and other partnering agencies continued to work on details of a behavioral health plan, which includes the campus. The goal is to produce an affordable and sustainable plan for new buildings and services to put before voters in a bond referendum, she said.

“We won’t be working Christmas morning, but we are working very hard to get this completed,” she said. “We will have a plan in weeks.”

But currently, the county does not have an estimated price for the project and hasn't set a date for a bond election. It also is unclear what reception voters will give the idea. Although no group has come out in opposition to increased mental health services, the faith-based group Justice Matters has expressed concerns of a different type. It wants any mental health bond issue to be presented to voters as a stand-alone item. County commissioners are considering combining the mental health bond issue with a bond issue to expand the Douglas County Jail at a price tag of about $44 million.

The eight-room residential ward would be part of a proposed 20,000-square-foot behavioral health crisis center, which would have designated space for individual and group counseling, Tryanski said. As the county has added housing options to the plan, it has shrunk the size of the proposed crisis center. The center is half the size of a previous conceptual plan Treanor Architects developed for the county in February 2016, which was estimated to cost $15 million.

The center’s residential beds would be available for those voluntarily seeking treatment and perhaps involuntary placements, Schmitz said. Last spring, the Kansas Legislature approved a statute that allows community-based mental health centers like Bert Nash to accept involuntary placements, he said. However, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment hasn’t yet developed the regulations for community-based involuntary placements, he said.

The city of Lawrence Affordable Housing Advisory Board recommended Monday that a nearly $500,000 affordable housing grant be made available to Bert Nash for the transitional group home.

Schmitz said Bert Nash would provide supportive programming at the home. The programming would be designed to help tenants move to more independent environments.

The transitional home would probably have two people on staff during daytime hours, Schmitz said. Overnight staffing would be dependent on how many beds were available. A 12-bed home probably would require two staff members on duty, he said.

Federal funds

The County Commission agreed in October to work with the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority to develop the long-term housing units for those with behavioral health concerns. Shannon Oury, executive director of the Housing Authority, explained the housing authority doesn’t have the legal means to construct housing. The arrangement Oury proposed and county commissioners agreed to pursue would have the county build the apartment complex. The housing authority would fully compensate the county for construction costs with $2 million saved from efficiently managing past U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants, Oury said.

The housing authority needs to get HUD’s blessing to use the $2 million for the behavior health campus proposal, Oury said. She is confident she will secure HUD approval, based in part on successfully gaining HUD approval for similar projects in the past, she said.

“I know who to work with, and I have made contact with HUD,” she said. “They know this is coming. I don’t see any impediment. Our reserves can be used to acquire affordable housing units.”

Oury is less sure of when HUD would complete all the bureaucratic hurdles required to authorize use of the $2 million.

The housing authority would be responsible for the maintenance of the apartments and their grounds, Oury said. It would also fund some case management components while Bert Nash would be responsible for the tenants’ behavioral health case management, she said.

“We have a great relationship with Bert Nash,” she said. “We work with them all the time.”

The tenants could stay in the units until they no longer needed support, Oury said.

“In the programs we currently run, we have people who want to move on to independent living,” she said. “We help them get on a transfer list for Section 8 housing or public housing.”


Deborah Snyder 5 months ago

Mr. Schmitz, while I agree with your premise, I have a much harder time paying for someone from Iowa to benefit from what you are lobbying for from Douglas County taxpayers.

Surely you would understand (and accept) a caveat that only Douglas County residents (defined as such after one year of residency) would have priority and primary use of such facilities?

Chris Anderson 5 months ago

He's just drawing on his experience in Iowa in his former position, not advocating for providing services for out of area people.

But, no, we should not impose some strict residency requirement for use of the facility. What a cruel thought.

Richard Quinlan 5 months ago

Sounds like an awesome idea. Douglas County deserves a top notch facility and the mental health patients deserve care and some dignity. Get it done !

Greg DiVilbiss 5 months ago

Bob, There is a crisis in Kansas including Lawrence for the treatment of the mentally ill. Currently can you tell me how many beds there are for a mental health crisis? Right now mentally ill patients may have to spend up to a week in the emergency room in facilities that are not designed for these particular illnesses.

You say you pay for it then....Well Bob you are paying for it as many of these individuals wind up in jail not being treated properly (no fault of the jail) at a MUCH higher cost. Though I generally agree that we should be fiscally conservative in this case we would be saving money and more importantly saving lives through proper care.

Bob Summers 5 months ago

Good. You can help pay for it with Mr Quinlan.

Bob Summers 5 months ago

As usual, congenital Liberals in government will say and do anything to take your money.

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 5 months ago

We are being bled dry by taxes already. It's nice to dream up all these projects, when you pay for them with someone else's money. This should have come before the library, rock chalk park, etc. It is certainly more important than they are. Not that you care about retired people on fixed incomes, but you should.

Chris Anderson 5 months ago

Because retired people on fixed incomes -- and their family members -- are immune from mental health issues? We're all in this together.

Tina Rosenthal 5 months ago

@ Deborah Snyder- The article never states that the bond will provide housing for Iowa residents. It does reference that the new CEO for Bert Nash experienced a project similar to this one, while working in the state of Iowa. Make no mistake, when this bond is approved, it will benefit Douglas County residents only!

Bob Summers 5 months ago

It only benefits those that use the sanctuary and the government masterminds patting themselves on the back for forcing the complex down the throats of people paying for it.

Ken Lassman 5 months ago

Do you have any idea how the current mental health system works/fails? It has been in permanent crisis mode for quite a while, with the default housing being very expensive prisons or decertified state run mental institutions. the fact that our county is showing some much needed leadership in the field is good, believe it or not. Your comments belie a stupidity found only upon the willfully ignorant and adds absolutely nothing constructive to the discussion. Just some simple feedback for ya, Bob.

Richard Quinlan 5 months ago

I gladly pay for a mental health center. Its a basic community service ! More important than a ball park , yep. Than an 80,000 plastic skating rink , yep. More important than a kickback on commercial construction , yep . Lawrence has historically settled for less. With KU here we have no affordable community college locally. With all the students our employment market is horrible mostly populated by minimum wage jobs and part time schedules.

Lawrence deserves better !

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 5 months ago

I could get behind this more than a new jail. In fact, I'll bet we could relieve the pressure of the jail with this facility. Maybe they should have a section that is secure for those mentally ill who have committed a violent crime. How many people in the jail are mentally ill?

Gary Stussie 5 months ago

Interesting/Challenging issue.

March 2017 - Pope Francis offered a concrete, permanently useful prescription for dealing with panhandlers ... "Give them the money, and don’t worry about it."

Other web guidance: If you’re worried about the money going to alcohol or drugs there are a few options: • Give the money to an organization working with people experiencing homelessness. • Buy a street newspaper. • Buy a small gift card – i.e. for a local coffee shop or fast food restaurant. • Use the money to donate food to a food bank.

  • Street Newspaper - Boston's HEP, like groups in other cities, runs a newspaper for the homeless, Spare Change. The newspaper hires 252 homeless people and has recently expanded to different offices throughout the state. The monthly paper sells 30,000 copies a month.

Several larger cities have started Coupon programs where shopkeepers provide 25-cent coupons for pedestrians to hand out to beggars/panhandlers which are redeemable only for food, clothing, haircuts, and laundromat services. Advocates insist "People who feel sorry for panhandlers and want to help them aren't necessarily serving them if they help them stay drunk."

This close to big cities like Wichita and KC, I believe we need to think crefully about how we address social issues ... "If you build it, they will come." may well apply.

Michael Kort 5 months ago

If it costs $3,700 just to drop in at the ER for a visit with a cold for some me time in a waiting room and a less than 15 minute look see with a doctor............what do the Congenatal Conservatives think that it might cost (?) to keep a single mentally ill person in the ER for 10 whole days (?)........just send the bill for "Jailing them" or "ERing them" to the Congenital Conservatives because they are obviously all financial wizards.......well......maybe I exaggerate a little ?........but they know how to save money (?) by not dealing with things (?) in a rational we can expand the Greybar Hotel to hold the mentally insane and build a bigger ER so that maybe if a lawfull rational citizen has a heart attack, then there will be room at the ER to save them ( because lunatics aren't clogging up the place and tying up the staffs time with issues that can be handled elsewhere..........gee......what a concept ! ) .

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